As a matter of principle, I don’t support the existence of billionaires. As a matter of preference, Tony Stark is my favourite billionaire.
I’ve always been a sceptic when it comes to treating comic book movies as art meant to be observed in isolation or criticised based on conventional cinematic wisdom. There’s fun to be had when it’s done well – but could superheroes be anything more than that? Martin Scorsese started the industry’s most heated debate in recent times when he said Marvel movies “are not cinema”.
This pandemic has altered the release schedules of many big studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fell prey to a similar predicament, going without a single theatrical release for more than a year. It was only at the beginning of 2021 that they finally greenlit WandaVision to be their first web series released on Disney+. The initial trailers left a lot of its fans doubtful, not least because of the experimental direction the show’s creators were taking. But in hindsight, it’s turned out to be the perfect way to open a new phase of television where artistic vision is matched by movie-like budgets.
I’ve always attached myself to the MCU as a passive observer of the superhero genre rather than turning into a ‘fanboy’. It’s often been called an ‘expensive television show’ which expects its audience to know about every nook and cranny of the fictional world they’ve constructed. The continuity they’ve maintained in terms of character development, as well as its inter-related storylines, is seen as a miracle by some. For others, this uninhibited expansion is a curse.
WandaVision didn’t put an end to this debate during its conclusion, but it did treat us to really good television along the way. The show manages to carry a nine-episode arc with the depth and gravitas its subject matter requires.
The writers pay a convincing homage to American sitcoms, even though the script falters at times when it comes to being funny on its own. On the other hand, many philosophical questions and moral debates that have formed the basis of science fiction for many years now are raised, and it was great to see the show explore its source material beyond the world-ending sky beams and mind-bending fistfights we’ve grown to expect from the MCU.
Sure, the storyline is neither ground-breaking nor is its conclusion a genre-subverting masterstroke. But the show still manages to satirise six decades of sitcoms and draw an excellent character sketch of an empowered, tragic female superhero along the way.
Some see the co-titular character Wanda Maximoff’s representation to be sexist. She constructs a magically-powered world to resurrect her dead partner and hold an entire town hostage because she faced loss. It seems overdramatic even for someone with world-altering powers.
But Elizabeth Olsen plays the character with a fluency that does not get lost in translation during post-production, as movies laden with CGI tend to do. This series allows her to shine, shift through accents, and embody cross-genre tropes without ever succumbing to any of them. The show utilises the time afforded to it as a means of explaining Wanda to us – it does so quite well.
WandaVision could easily have become a hodgepodge filled with Easter eggs and a troublesome representation of women in the genre. But by giving its characters more introspective moments than explosive ones, the show serves as a solid stand-alone where the audience is forced to look beyond black and white resolutions.
Paul Bettany fulfils his role as Vision with equal parts of elegance, stolidity and self-reflection. He was born to play the role of this underrated Avenger. For people who know his origin from the comics, his representation in this series has been satisfying.
Not much else can be said about the plot without spoiling the experience which the show presents to all those willing to embrace it. Kathryn Hahn, Kat Dennings, Teyonnah Parris and Randall Park carry the weight of the story’s secondary characters with poise. They hold the show together even when it threatens to break apart at the seams because of its onslaught of melodramatic beats at times.
The MCU is the most ‘mainstream’ thing in pop culture right now. It’s also quite good. If you’re one of those who believe production houses are arranging their funerals by rallying around the MCU, what’s the point of resisting the ride it’s taking us on? If this indeed is cinema’s swansong, it’s been a memorable one so far.
Abhijato Sensarma is an 18-year-old student from Kolkata who can be reached on Twitter and Instagram @ob_jato. His works have been published in The Guardian, The Telegraph in Schools, The Statesman’s Voices and he has won TOI’s Write India competition twice.
Featured image: Disney